Cold Sore or Pimple?

Cold sore or pimple? A cold sore is often called a fever blister. These blisters usually appear in patches around the mouth and can be spread from person to person. A pimple is caused when a hair follicle becomes plugged and may appear anywhere on the body. Sometimes, discerning whether a lesion is a cold sore or pimple may be very difficult. This article will highlight the differences and treatments for each.

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Differences between Cold Sore and Pimple

Cold sores and pimples can be found in men and women of any age. They may look very similar, so it is helpful to understand the differences in the two conditions.


Cold Sore



Usually around the mouth; sometimes on the genitals.

May appear anywhere on the body, but NEVER on the lips.


Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV-1).

Clogging of hair follicles caused by oil production that may be increased by hormones, stress, or diet.


Pain and burning before the sore develops; once the sore develops and ruptures, pus will drain and a scab will develop.

No burning or tingling before a pimple develops; pimples do not open on their own.


Because they are caused by a virus, cold sores can be passed by direct contact with an infected person.

Because they are caused by clogged pores, pimples are not contagious.

Who Gets It

Anyone can get cold sores; they are commonly seen in small children

Commonly found in teenagers as hormones become active, anyone can have a pimple.


Develop on the lips and around the mouth; may also less commonly appear around the nostrils.

Anywhere on the body where there is hair; do not appear on the lips.

Hurt Or Not

Initially itchy before the sore appears, then painful as crusting begins.

Not as painful; usually no itching before they appear.

Crusting Behavior

Sores break open and ooze pus; Yellow crust forms over the sore.

Typically, do not break open without squeezing; crusting will only occur if infection develops.

Treatments for Cold Sore

1. Home Remedies for Cold Sore

Cold sores will usually go away without treatment; however, some of these treatments may hasten a cure.

  • Use OTC Products. Some of the over-the-counter medications such as Abreva may not cure a cold sore, but using it as soon as you feel the itching before the outbreak may shorten the outbreak.
  • Apply Cold Compress. Again, a cool compress is not a cure but may help the pain and itching associated with a cold sore.
  • Try Lemon Balm. Using lemon balm may not cure a cold sore but may shorten the outbreak.
  • Eat Lysine. The amino acid lysine is available in fish, chicken and beans and may hasten healing of cold sores.
  • Reduce Stress. Many times, cold sores seem to be triggered by stress and anxiety. Try yoga and meditation to reduce stress ― and avoid cold sores.

2. Medications for Cold Sore

Several prescription medications may help speed up healing of cold sores. Antiviral medications such as Acyclovir, Valacyclovir, Famciclovir, and Penciclovir are a few of the prescription drugs that your healthcare provider may want you to try. For very severe infections, your doctor may want you to try an antiviral medication administered in the vein.

Treatments for Pimple

Pimples can be treated. Home remedies and medical treatments can both be tried.

1. Home Remedies for Pimple

  • Wash the Pimple with Gentle Cleanser. Although scrubbing the face can irritate the skin, washing with a gentle cleanser can keep oils cleaned out of pores.
  • Use OTC Acne Lotion. Over-the-counter lotions may kill bacteria and clean up the oil that causes pimples. These lotions can cause irritation and skin flakiness.
  • Avoid Irritants. These irritants may be oily sunscreen, cosmetics or products designed to hide the pimple.
  • Watch the Contacts. Keep your hands, hair and other objects away from your face. All of these objects may be dirty or oily -- things certain to increase your chances of getting a pimple.
  • Ban Picking or Squeezing. Picking pimples can lead to infections ―infections can lead to scars.

2. Medical Treatments for Pimple

  • Try Prescription Lotion. If OTC acne lotions do not work, your healthcare provider may want you to try a prescription lotion. Retin A, Differin, and Avage are all drugs that use Vitamin A to prevent clogging of hair follicles. Antibiotic creams such as dapsone gel may help to kill the bacteria that can cause pimples.
  • Use Antibiotics. If your acne is severe, your doctor may want you to take oral antibiotics for a few months until your acne problem begins to improve.
  • Apply Isotretinoin. For pimples that do not respond to other treatments, your healthcare provider may prescribe isotretinoin. Be aware that there are side effects associated with this medication ― if you are taking this medication, you MUST be monitored by a physician.
  • Try Oral Contraceptives. Your physician may prescribe a course of oral contraceptive pills to treat pimples. Be sure to discuss the side effects of oral contraceptives with your doctor before you begin them.
  • Accept Laser and Light Therapy. Some laser therapies can improve pimples by damaging the oil glands and decreasing the production of oil. Light therapies can kill the bacteria that cause pimples. These therapies should only be performed by dermatologists using the most up-to-date equipment. This will help minimize damage that can be caused by these therapies.
  • Do Cosmetic Surgeries. A dermatologist may recommend certain cosmetic treatments such as microdermabrasion or chemical peels. These treatments should be used with other treatments and should only be used under the direction of a licensed professional.

When to See a Doctor

If you are not sure about the causes of your symptoms, please go see your doctor. He will help you find it out. Improper treatment of either of these conditions may lead to infections and scarring.